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The onus of legacy

To ask if Presidency’s true spirit lies in the past or the future is to draw an artificial dichotomy.

Written by Ayushi Astha |
January 23, 2017 12:47:17 am
Presidency University, Presidency University history, Presidency University alumni, rajendra prasad, alumni list, Presidency University alumni list, global education summit, bengal global education summit, All Wall AISA, indian express news, india news, indian express column For the past two weeks, Presidency has been witness to some of the most erudite minds in the world as they put forth their ideas of what makes a university at the Global Education Summit.

It has been 200 years since Presidency University was established. For someone who calls Presidency home, this is a moment not just of pride, but also uncertainty. Ours is an institution that counts amongst its alumni a president of India (Rajendra Prasad), a prime minister of Pakistan (Muhammad Ali Bogra) and a president of Bangladesh (Abu Sayeed Chowdhury), which places the onus of carrying forward this legacy on a young, impressionable generation of students. From where I see it, the current students of Presidency appear akin to Atlas, who was the link between the celestial skies and the Earth. We acknowledge and appreciate the lessons that the hallowed halls of history teach us, but we will never allow ourselves to be prisoners of the past.

For the past two weeks, Presidency has been witness to some of the most erudite minds in the world as they put forth their ideas of what makes a university at the Global Education Summit. From globalisation to the homogenisation of syllabi, ideas were discussed, debated and deliberated on — a process in which the students also had the opportunity to present their comments and questions. The least liked part of all these lectures was when the chairperson had to nudge the students to bring the session to a close. Nobel laureates had to bear with questioning about the efficacy of their methods and Padma Shri-awarded authors had to explain to an irate audience why they insisted upon killing off beloved characters. The most significant thing about these lectures were that they were all organised to celebrate the past, but they were all centred around the question of the future. It is this synthesis of the past and the future, that comes together to make the present so enriching.

Speaking of the past, each year, when the fresh batch of students come in, they are told about the three ‘Ps’ of Presidency — Prem(love), Politics, and Porashona (academics) — in elaborate detail by their seniors. This time-tested tradition was recounted with mirth and wistfulness by the alumni who came to the university to be a part of the bicentennial celebrations. For a lot of them, however, the new and improved infrastructure proved to be the show-stopper. The renovated campus elicited a spectrum of reactions, ranging from a nostalgia for the old Presidency to those who acknowledged that the older buildings were in need of modernisation and restoration. The campus now has several massive walls dedicated to honouring our distinguished alumni. A current student, standing in front of a blank wall was heard proclaiming, “Ei deoal ta aamar jonnye rekhechhe”(They have saved this blank wall for my name). So perhaps, we can rest securely in the knowledge that the current generation at Presidency has great plans in store for the future.

In physics, we are told that objects usually take the path of least resistance. However, this concept does not apply to student politics in Presidency, where student protesters usually resort to the path of greatest resistance as an affirmation of their dissent. Hunger strikes and picketing are a common phenomenon to the average Presidencian. It is also very interesting to trace the evolution of student protests in this institution. From banners and political meetings, the locus of these demonstrations has been shifted to the virtual world where student politicians, along with their supporters take to Facebook and Twitter to spread their propaganda. It takes just a couple of hours after an event for posters and scathing online condemnations to surface and students show up for hunger strikes with tablets and laptops in tow.

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The ever-present graffiti too, has borrowed from its surroundings and taken a turn towards modernisation. The painters of Presidency have been upping their game recently. From the earlier slogans of inquilab the taglines of various political parties, the artwork now is an adventurous amalgamation of Banksy’s work to a picture of Trump with a forked tongue, in the shape of Hillary Clinton. Of course, there is always the stray “All Wall AISA” to keep us grounded. We often make jokes that capitalism and white walls are the two most loathed things at 86/1 College Street.

College campuses are resilient places. Stray dogs that are considered honorary Presidencians will grow up and eventually pass, the artwork on the walls will fade, or be painted over. Generations will grow up and move beyond Presidency, but it will always be home. It will forever be a place that will play host to some our most treasured memories and moments.

To ask if the true spirit of Presidency lies in the past or the future is to draw an artificial dichotomy between the two because the past has been there all along, to guide and correct us, while the future shows us promise and potential and leads us by the hand. But the foundation on which both the past and future lie upon is the present.

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Happy Birthday Presidency. You are neither 200 years old, nor 200 years young. Just 200 years ahead.

The writer, 19, is an undergraduate student at Presidency University

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First published on: 23-01-2017 at 12:47:17 am
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